ENDSARS: No justice in sight for victims of police brutality in Anambra as govt plays to the gallery
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After a nationwide protest against police brutality, the federal government directed the 36 states, including FCT, to constitute judicial panels to hear victims’ petitions. The government’s directive gave hope to many police brutality victims until recently, when it became clear that many of them may never get justice. Lukman ABOLADE reports.
FOR more than six years, Amala Uju Nwabudu, a resident of Umuanugo, wakes up every morning wondering if she is indeed a widow or is caught in an endless trance.
Her inquiry started in March 2014, when her husband, Emmanuel Nwabudu, disappeared.
It was about five years into her marriage. Uju said the Awkuzu SARS unit in Anambra state invited her husband for questioning, but that was the last time she saw him.
Several days of waiting turned to weeks, then months, and months lapsed into years, but the reality remains the same: Her husband is gone.
In an interview with The ICIR in December 2020, Uju said she did not sit at home just waiting for the father of her then five-year-old daughter to reappear; she made efforts to secure his release.
According to her, on several occasions, the SARS operatives warned her to stay at home and stop coming for her husband’s release, but she refused to heed the warning.
Her unrelenting attempts to get her husband released became irritating to the SARS operatives, who eventually accused her of harbouring arms at her residence, claiming that the guns allegedly kept in her residence are used for her husband’s kidnapping operations.
So, one morning in March 2014, her house was raided by men from SARS and officers of the State Security Service (SSS) searching for weapons. Though they did not find guns, they carted away her property, including her generator set and her husband’s hand drums.
“When they came, they beat me up and arrested me alongside one of our neighbours who was later released on the road to Amawbia,” Uju narrated.
From custody of the SSS, she was transferred to SARS Awkuzu, where she was heavily beaten and maltreated for one month while her two and five-year-old daughters were left at home without parental care.
Uju’s brother, Pius Udenwa, who made efforts to secure his sister and her husband’s release, said the security agents also told him to desist. Otherwise, he would be branded a kidnapper.
After spending a month in police detention, Uju was bailed and was never contacted again by the police; until now, she doesn’t know whether her husband was alive or dead because he is yet to be found.
In October 2020, when she heard about the Anambra State Judicial Panel constitution, Uju, through her lawyer, Chiadi Obidi, sought justice. Still, her petition is yet to be heard, and she has not been called upon by the panel. Now, Uju’s hope for justice is dashed because there is nowhere else to go.
In a separate petition to the Anambra State Judicial Panel, her brother is also seeking justice over his brother-in-law’s disappearance or possible death. Still, his case has also not been heard.
Udenwa told The ICIR that his petition has remained unrescinded. He is yet to be contacted since submitting the petition on November 3rd, 2020, six days after the Anambra State Judicial panel was constituted.
Just like the Nwabudu’s, Alfred Nwaofulundu awaits a call from the Anambra State Judicial Panel to hear his case.
Nwaofulundu is a resident of Etiti Awovu village in Anambra state, and he was arrested on March 15, 2017, by SARS operatives over the alleged kidnapping case.
Nwaofulundu was held in the custody of the SARS operatives in Akwuzu but later transferred to Neni command after several months of torture and brutality.
During his stay at Awkuzu, Nwaofulundu said he witnessed several dehumanising treatments unleashed by the SARS operatives on him and 23 other detainees, most of whom spent more time in detention.
Nwaofulundu recounted how he was stripped naked and starved by those paid to protect him.
One day, he was transferred to the SARS command at Neni, a move he recalled was to ‘hasten his death’ because he had refused to accede to the allegation that he is a kidnapper.
According to Alfred, he heard the SARS operative sing him a song every day, saying, “you are a kidnapper, and you must die”.
Nwaofulundu added he was kept in the worst cell, alongside 43 other detainees who have not been charged to court and denied a visit by relatives.
Nwaofulundu said inmates were left with no choice but to sleep naked on top of each other.
After spending months in detention, he made a friend, Onyedika, who had spent several months in the SARS detention before him.
Nwaofulundu said Onyedika was arrested and detained but was never charged to court. Instead, he was steadily tortured and made to confess to crimes he did not commit.
“Constantly, teargas was thrown into the cell to suffocate us and force us into admitting crimes we did not commit,” Nwaofulundu said.
One day, a police officer threw teargas again, which suffocated Onyedika so much that he died while groaning in excruciating pain. Nwaofulundu was made to watch his body decompose for five days.
“On one occasion, when teargas was thrown into the cell by the cell guard, five persons amongst us died from the effect. Onyedika, my friend, also died eventually with his decomposing bodies left with us for about five days before he was removed but never returned to his people,” Nwaofulundu said.
After eight months in the SARS detention, pressure from the then Deputy Governor of Anambra State, Nkem Okeke, helped pave the way for his release. Nwaofulundu noted that Okeke told the police commissioner to either charge him to a court or release him.
Finally, he was charged to court by the SARS operatives under the command of one Okpenye as the OC SARS and Uzo, aka Onyeluoukaofunanya as the investigating officer.
The Magistrate Court of Anambra State sitting at Ukpo discharged and acquitted him after Ifeanyickuhwi, who was accused of kidnapping, appeared before the court and testified that Nwaofulunduwas not among his captors.
According to the court ruling, Nwaofulundu was tortured and manhandled by the police concerning a crime he never committed.
The brutalised victim is seeking justice through a petition addressed to the Anambra State Judicial Panel dated November 11, 2020.
According to documents available to The ICIR, Nwaofulundu’s petition was received by the Office of the Anambra.
State Secretary to the Government on November 13, 2020, but he was never called upon or contacted by the state judicial panel.
Nwaofulundu’s petition is one of the many ignored in the Anambra state judicial panel.
Aside from the endless wait for petitions to be heard, The ICIR also gathered that some state panels struck out victims’ petitions on the ground that human rights groups find questionable.
But Anambra state panel said it has only dismissed two cases because they are currently being heard at a competent court of justice. Therefore it is beyond the power of the panel to hear such cases.
Before Judicial Panels were set up across Nigerian states, the only course of seeking justice for police brutality victims in Nigeria was through the court, but the process is slow.
Currently, there are cases of ENDSARS victims seeking the implementation of a court order that ruled that compensation be paid to victims of police brutality. Still, the police have refused to comply, and an indication that if the victims get justice at the court, there are slim chances that the police would comply considering their record of disobeying court orders to pay damages or compensation to victims.
In February, Sunday Kehinde, a petitioner before the panel to investigate police brutality organised by the Nigeria Human Rights Commission, presented a certified true copy of the judgement from an FCT high court awarding him Two million (two million naira) due to injustice meted out to him by the police, however, since 22nd January 2011, the police haven’t complied with the order.
During a panel executive session on petitions relating to the enforcement of judicial decisions /awards attended by The ICIR in Abuja on Thursday, March 18, Sulaiman Galadima, the Chairman of the IIP-SARS panel, said there are exactly 44 petitions before it that borders on the police’s refusal to pay compensations to victims of police misconduct after Court rulings.
Galadima stated that 20 of the petitions bordered on extrajudicial killings, unlawful arrest and detention, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and torture, alleged enforced disappearance, confiscation of property, among others.
Inside Anambra State Judicial Panel; failure of a state
In Nigeria, Anambra state has the highest number of petitions on police brutality, with 313 petitions, followed by Lagos. However, The ICIR observed that the state is apathetic in the pursuit of justice for the citizens.
Despite the high number of victims approaching the panel, the state has failed to address the allegations levied against the police properly.
Rita Onyeka, the Secretary of the Anambra State judicial panel, in an interview with The ICIR, said truly it has not heard up to half of the total 313 petitions received because of the time frame allocated to it by the state government.
Onyeka said the panel had filed for an extension to the Anambra State Government since December 2020, but it has not been granted when filing this report.
According to available documents, The ICIR can also confirm that only a few of the panel’s petitions have been heard, and just a very few has been concluded. Still, no recommendation has been made yet to address the agitations of the victims.
An analysis of the petitions before the panel shows that most victims bothered on disappearance and allegations of extrajudicial killing by the police while a few others were on maltreatment and high handedness of the security operatives.
The ICIR also found out that the panel received about 40 petitions from the Nigerian Police against those accused of either assaulting the police officers or destroying the Force’s properties.
The Anambra state judicial panel has also been fractured, as youth representatives resigned due to the state government’s ‘unseriousness’ in getting
justice for the many victims of police brutality.
Announcing their resignations, the youth representatives lamented that the governor of the state, Willie Obiano, has refused to provide adequate logistics to ensure the panel’s smooth running, an attitude they said has hampered the hearing of petitions by victims.
“We are, however, now convinced that the Anambra State Government has no regard for the victims of human rights violations by the police. The Government has totally ignored the panel and had set up the panel to play to the gallery,” said Chijioke Ifediora, a lawyer and one of the youth representatives at the panel.
As of the time of filing this report, the panel has not been able to sit or hear other cases three months after the closure.
The untouchable James Nwafor and his many sins
James Nwafor, a former commander of the Awkuzu SARS and special assistant to Willie Obiano, the Anambra State Governor, is not unpopular.
He had supervised and commanded a series of illegal killings, disappearance, torture and brutality of Anambra residents during his tenure that lasted between 2012 till 2016 when he was transferred to Bauchi State, according to victims who spoke at the panel. In September 2016, Nwafor was again transferred to his Awkuzu office, where he retired in 2018. Governor Obiano later appointed him as a senior special assistant on security.
Several testimonies by victims and their families confirmed the atrocity of the former police officer. From the unknown destination of Emmanuel Nwabudu to the illegal detention of his wife, Uju Nwabudu, the disappearance or possible death of 20-year-old Chijioke Iloanya, who was arrested by the SARS operatives in 2012 and has never been seen again, many cases of police brutality hang around the neck of Nwafor, but he remains untouchable by the law.
Onyeka, secretary to the state judicial panel, had also told The ICIR that many of the submitted cases are against Nwafor.
Anambra state panel summoned Nwafor before it to explain the alleged crimes, but the summon was dishonoured.
In an interview with The ICIR, Haruna Muhammed, the Anambra State Public Relations Officer, said Nwafor is no longer a police officer and cannot be arrested without a court order.
The Anambra state panel said it had made efforts to bring Nwafor before it, including sending letters to the state police command and Abuja’s police headquarters.
While the state police command responded, the headquarters rejected the letter and did not respond; the panel told The ICIR.
Onyeka said the state panel has no other legal backing within the purview of its power to ‘forcefully’ make Nwafor appear before it.
Nwafor himself did not respond to the text message sent to him by The ICIR.
Sources close to him said he changed his contact number after the allegations against him were brought to open.
The number he was known with during his time as Commander of the Awkuzu SARS and SSA to Anambra governor was not reachable.
Also, text and WhatsApp messages sent to the number were not responded to.
Nigerian Human Rights Commission overwhelmed to take more cases
Out of the 36 states and the federal capital territory, only 13 states heard police brutality cases as directed by the presidential panel on SARS.
The states are Akwa Ibom, Benue, Delta, Enugu, FCT, Gombe, Imo, Kaduna, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Ogun, and Rivers. At the same time, there is no hearing or decision in respect of the remaining states.
The NHRC oversees another panel called the Independent Investigative Panel on allegations of human rights violations by the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and other units of the Nigerian Police sitting in Abuja, where a few cases are being heard.
When asked about the seeming lack of commitment from some state governments, Fatimah Agwai Muhammed, the NHRC Assistant Director of Public Affairs, said states that think they can not carry on with their cases are expected to pass it on the panel sitting in Abuja.
According to Agwai, the panel sitting in Abuja would absorb such cases and commence trial from where the state panel had stopped.
The ICIR asked Agwai why the NHRC has refused to look out for states whose panel are not effective to absorb the petitions; Agwai retracted, saying the panel sitting in Abuja is already overwhelmed with several petitions, therefore, may be unable to accept more cases.
Speaking with Mike Onyekwelu, a Lawyer with Human Rights Law Service (HURILAW), a non-profit organisation that provides legal service on human rights in Anambra State, he expressed disappointment over the way the panel is being handled in Anambra state.
According to Onyekwelu, there is no seriousness on the part of the governor to get justice for victims of police brutality in the state.
“I don’t think the Anambra State government is committed to giving justice to these people (victims), because of what we have seen so far, now some of the panel members have resigned, and since then we have not heard anything from the governor, it shows lack of seriousness,” Onyekwelu said.
For many of the over 300 victims that have approached the panel, their wait for justice seems endless as there is no green light yet for restitution.